Why is this here?

I'm a filmmaker currently touring the DIY Feature A Genesis Found around the campuses of colleges and universities across the Southeast. This is the personal account, for better or worse, of its successes and failures.

Monday, May 23, 2011

All Good Things....

Well, the Tour is over.

That score is about right.
Actually, it's been over for some time-- technically the last performance was our screening at the University of Arkansas in mid-March.  But as there were still a few lingering possibilities for some late-April, early-May presentations, I decided I'd hold off on writing my "Final Chapter" in this saga in case any of those screenings developed.

Our final screening was actually supposed to be in Tuscaloosa, at the University of Alabama (my alma mater) within that April-May time frame, right at the end of the semester.  It was a gig I was really hoping for-- a "homecoming" of sorts, to the place it was written, based and partially shot.  Hell, the University of Alabama is IN the movie, and recognized as such.  So I thought it'd be a great way to wrap up 11 months (plus the four or five months of prep) and 15 screenings (was it only 15????) worth of work with a final 16th in Tuscaloosa.

My numerous attempts at screening at UA were no where near as fruitful as I initially had assumed they'd be, mainly because most of the professors I knew well-enough when I went to school there to ask to sponsor me had moved on since my undergrad tenure.  Another reason I had such a hard time, I think, was my own lack of immediacy about setting up a screening there (I just figured "well of course we'll screen there.")

My taking-for-granted misstep aside, by late-February early-March I was working, quite actively, to get the final few gigs booked up on the tour.  Honestly I was a little tired of the tour (as evidenced in just about EVERY post I've previously placed on here) and was anxious to move on not only to Genesis' next and final phase of distribution-- but also just ready to move on from Genesis all together.

Of course, I wanted to end it on a high note (or at least a screening I was actually able to attend), and by late-March I had decided to write off all the other lingering potential screenings to focus on the UA gig, and make that our sentimental last stop.

I finally got ahold of a professor in the TCF dept. (where I got my degree) who actually took the time to write me back (I thought alumni carried some weight, dammit!), and we started crunching the details.  Despite slow exchanges, it seemed promising that we'd get to have our last show at UA after all, in early-May.

By the end of April we'd again lost touch, but as we still had a few weeks before the potential screening I was still holding out hope of a screening happening, and planned on getting back with my contact the last week of April.

Then April 27th happened.

April 27th was a devastating day for the Southeast-- Alabama in particular-- with the region being bombarded by roughly 288 tornadoes-- the nation's largest single-day tornado outbreak in history-- which included touchdowns of 3 Category EF-5s (the worst there are).

Among the numerous counties and cities of Alabama hit by the storms, a significant chunk at the heart of Tuscaloosa, along with a number of surrounding rural areas, was obliterated.

Needless to say, the storms also killed any hope I had of a final screening in Tuscaloosa, though I refuse to trivialize the event by claiming this was a lamentable casualty.  The devastation the region received is traumatic and continues to affect the lives of thousands.  It's been a nightmare to live through, for all of us, though there have been some positives to result from this tragedy, including the growth of a greater sense of regional identity and internal regional support-- both ideas that are quite important to me and Wonder Mill films.

So, to get back to topic, thus then the tour IS DONE, and I am glad.

I must admit-- if I allow myself, there are still times I fear that I wasted a lot of opportunities, that the fact that I only saw 15 schools is not an accomplishment at all, that I dropped the ball and wasted too much time checking Braves scores and fixing up the new house and working the day job, and not enough time making the most of the past year.  In some ways I feel like I have very little to show for all this work, and ultimately it cost me yet another year of Genesis lingering in distribution purgatory.

Anyone wanna buy my film?????
I think there is some validity to these fears, but as I begin to close this chapter in Genesis' development (and in my life) the fears fade, and I've come to peace with what we were able to accomplish with few resources and varying degrees of administrative cooperation from the schools we visited and the schools we tried.  I regret the two I missed attending, cherished the one overnight trip to the Carolinas and the above and beyond receptions at Murray State and the University of Tennessee, and feel a general sense of ease that it's over with and I am ready to move on.

I've never felt this peace about A Genesis Found before-- previously I always felt held back by it.  Maybe it's a spiritual sense of comfort in knowing I did my best, regardless how mixed the results were-- or maybe it's an intuitive sense of knowing what I needed to personally accomplish on my own professional journey.

Or maybe I'm just tired of it.

Regardless, before I bid my consistent (if infrequent) chronicling on this blog farewell, I would like to again thank the great folks who made this film, this tour, and this experience possible:

Thanks To:

- My Wife Peyton
- My Family - Robin, Arkie and Jason Fanning
- Kathy Taylor and Mike & Sarah Blankenship
- My Producer and Friend, Benjamin Stark, his Wife Danielle, and his Parents, Monika & Werner
- The Casts and Crews of A Genesis Found & The Nocturnal Third
- My Bosses and Work Family & Friends at the Day Job
- Southern Truths Artist Kevin Maggard
- The Administrators, Professors and Student Bodies at every school we attended
- Dr. Jay Cofield and the University of Montevallo
- Ashley Dumas and the University of West Alabama
- Ronn Hague and Pearl River Community College
- Philip J. Carr, Katie Bates, the USA Anthropology Society, and the University of South Alabama
- Jason Flynn and the University of North Alabama
- Arianne Gaetano, Hamilton Bryant and Auburn University
- Jay Franklin, the ETSU Anthropology Club and East Tennessee State University
- Tony Boudreaux and East Carolina University
- Karen Drexelius and the University of South Carolina
- Helen Roulston and Murray State University
- David Moore, John Thygerson and the University of Alabama - Huntsville
- Josh Rosenstein, the UGA Anthropology Society and the University of Georgia
- Deborah Albritton and Jefferson Davis Community College
- Chuck Maland and the University of Tennessee
- Lora Lennertz Jetton and the University of Arkansas
- The countless folks I contacted who took time to forward me along, give me suggestions, and help me try to set up a screening at their facility
- All of the Libraries, Art Councils, Film Commissions, Social Media Outlets, and other Community Organizations that helped us promote and supported our screenigns
- All of the Media Outlets that Covered and Promoted our screenings
- Everyone who made it out to a screening, picked up a promo DVD and helped spread the word
- The Wonder Mill Films Mailing List
- All our Fans on Facebook and Twitter

What we've learned...
I feel there's also an obligation here to wrap up a few philosophical discoveries I've had about this method of distribution, to better serve those of you following my chronicles as research for your own DIY ambitions.  I think it'd also do me some good to review, in simple, direct terms, exactly what I've learned these past 11 or so months.  So here goes:

- Distribution, especially DIY distribution, is hard.  There's too many outlets for entertainment now, too much supply and not enough new demand (ie there's the same number of folks looking for movies there always was).  So finding success doesn't always boil down to an original approach to distribution or having a good film.  You've got to be a good salesmen.  I'd say even a natural salesman.  I'm a horrible salesmen.  I found some success on this tour, and I think I'd call the whole affair a positive and successful promotion of the film, but I was never passionate about the experience.  I'm passionate about telling stories, just not selling them.  And it's hard to sell them if you don't love doing it.

- Regionalism is an idea that's marketable and attractive, but it ain't changing the world just yet.  I had a lot of folks come out to see the film due to regional ties-- and to our regionally-focused ethos-- but we could have easily done better exuding much less work marketing a Z-horror picture or a Faith-based flick.  Even bad ones.  Hell, ESPECIALLY bad ones.

- It's easier to sell something than give it away.  For some reason, it's hard to get folks to come out to free events.  I've seen this not only firsthand with this tour, but also with numerous free community events we have up at the day job-- cost equals quality in the cultural conciousness.  The predominant feeling is that if it's any good, we wouldn't be giving it away.  It's hard to argue that logic.

- The South rocks.  I've gotten to see some great places on the tour, and drove through/visited some nice towns.  Wish I could have stayed longer, but I wouldn't trade the experience.

- A Genesis Found is a good movie.  It has its flaws, but the reactions in the tour from numerous and diverse audiences (sometimes english/film students, sometimes anthropology students, sometimes ordinary public) has been typically positive enough to convince me the movie is generally appealing and worth a watch.  I've learned a lot since making it, but I'm genuinely proud to call it my first feature.

- I consider the Tour a success, but I wouldn't do it again.  The scheme worked as well as I figured, if not as well as I'd hoped, and I think the film has benefited from the exposure it brought, which was the point in the first place.  I also made some nice contacts and got to talk to a lot of interesting people, and have an interesting story or two to tell strangers and grandchildren.  So, as a personal experience, it was inspiring, revealing and memorable; and as a business model, it was a neat experiment that did what it was supposed to do-- but I don't think it was successful enough to justify doing again.  At least not without some backing and a bit more focused campaign.

So now that it's over-- what's next?

Well, first things first-- we got another movie on the way, which should launch early this Summer (exact date still TBA).  It's called The Nocturnal Third, and you can read all about here.

After that, I'm personally moving on from Genesis, focusing on my Producer duties with N-3rd, and also allowing myself to make writing my top priory again.  I'm writing a few things-- a new film project; a Young Adult adventure novel; and we've been flirting with the concept of adapting and finishing the stagnant Southern Truths featuring John Patton Jr. comic strip as a "Dramatic Podcast"-- all of which are using the majority of my focus at the moment.

And what's next for A Genesis Found?

Though philosophically I'm "moving on" from actively working on and actively promoting Genesis as of this post, there's still a bright future for our little feature that could.  In addition to the possible tie-in podcast, we're planning another Tour.

Now, I know I just said I wouldn't do this again, and we're not-- we're taking a different approach, this time around, and plan late-summer, early-fall to take both The Nocturnal Third and A Genesis Found around to predominantly city venues as a double feature Wonder Mill Roadshow.  No real details on this yet, but it's exciting, and we'll be sure to keep you all informed, here, on the Genesis website, and over at our facebook page.

There's also the possibility of a new DVD release of Genesis coming in the next few months, and we're hoping this will help make the film more readily available via more online and broadcast outlets.  Not sure if there's any BIG news on this front yet, but might be some coming in the near future, so keep posted here for more updates.  Who knows-- we may even wind up getting involved with a --gulp-- revenue-share distributor.

He's Original-Gansta-Wonder Mill.
And if that wasn't enough, one final announcement-- I've been invited by "Film Courage with David Branin & Karen Worden", an LA-based radio show, to write up a little retrospective of this Tour for their website!  I'm going to try and treat it like the definitive abridged memoir of the tour, so if you've liked my work here, or are interested in just reading the Cliff's Notes, I'll be sure and post the link here when it's up.

So that's it!  

Like I said, I'll still be posting here, from time to time, so if you're interested do do your best to make periodic checks here-- or even better, stay connected to us via Facebook and Twitter, where we'll update every time there's something new on this blog.

And Lastly....

Thank YOU for reading along and sharing this fun experiment and personal journey with me.  Now you should Buy the Film, Buy the Book, watch the Trailer for The Nocturnal Third, and have a great day!


  1. Great post, Lee. I know I've been really impressed by this adventure of yours, which showed immeasurable commitment to what's much more than just a "product," but something that comes from much deeper within yourself. The movie is good, and you should be proud of it. I was proud to be a part of it, and I look forward to WMF's next chapter.

  2. "we could have easily done better exuding much less work marketing a Z-horror picture or a Faith-based flick. Even bad ones. Hell, ESPECIALLY bad ones."

    Man, you sure know how to depress a guy.

    Great stuff here, bud. The future is bright.

  3. Monika Stark5/24/11, 8:33 PM

    Lee, W+ me where extremely impressed with the way you
    guys made the film....heat,nights no sleep,smells in the field,following schedule,be in front of everybody else,keep the peace,commitment,love your neighbor,keeping focused...and so much more! Others would have dropped the idea and left without looking back but you FINISHED the task at hand! Take pride, move on to the next,never forget where your roots are, keep plugging your talent in this world! See you soon.